By GREG BEACHAM
The Associated Press
FONTANA, Calif. — Martin Truex Jr. claimed the pole for the NASCAR Cup series race in Fontana after a qualifying session in which 13 drivers didn’t complete a lap.
Truex won back-to-back poles for the first time in his career Friday, following up his pole in Phoenix with another speedy performance.
He turned a lap at 186.567 mph in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, claiming his 17th career pole on the weathered 2 miles of asphalt at Auto Club Speedway.
“Not a perfect lap by any means, but we did what we had to do today,” said Truex, who earned the pole at Fontana for the first time.
Kyle Busch was second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 186.437 mph, and defending Fontana champion Kyle Larson was third. Erik Jones is fourth and Austin Dillon is fifth.
But only 24 cars recorded a qualifying attempt in the opening round after 13 failed to clear pre-qualifying inspection in time.
Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott were among the drivers who will start from the back. All four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets didn’t turn a lap.
Truex was the only driver who improved his time in the final session of qualifying.
Here are more things to know about qualifying for the fifth NASCAR Cup race of the season:
∫ STILL FAST: Kevin Harvick will start 10th when he attempts to win his fourth consecutive race early in the season. His rivals shouldn’t get too excited, however: Harvick set the track qualifying speed record at 188.744 mph in the first round in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
∫ SILVER LINING: The drivers who didn’t record a lap will start from the back Sunday, but they’ll be on sticker tires. That matters on a track like Fontana. “It’s a huge advantage on that first run, especially if it goes long,” said Truex, who got a similar edge last month in Atlanta. “In my mind, if you’re not probably in the top four, you’re probably better off being 25th. It’s going to be a big deal. Hopefully we can get out front and get a big lead early, or get some clean air and get separated.”
∫ LET IT GO: Busch doesn’t think anyone should be too hard on the cars that failed to record a lap, because every team is still working on learning the finer points of NASCAR’s new rules. “This is a whole new system,” Busch said. “This is our [fifth] week on it. You’ve got to give them a little more time.”
∫ HENDRICK ZERO: Jeff Andrews, the vice president of competition for Hendrick, said the team’s cars all had trouble with an issue relating to the rear decklid. “They were all similar, in the same area of the car,” Andrews said. “We’ve got to go back. We have to talk internally and talk with NASCAR. We felt like we were making changes in the area affected, and we were not seeing the results when we went back through [inspection].”
∫ GOOD START: Busch’s result is particularly important with Toyota Racing Development headquartered in nearby Orange County. “The guys in Costa Mesa, they always put this one on the calendar,” Busch said. “They always want to come out here and perform well.”
Auto Club 400 Lineup
Friday’s qualifying; race Sunday
At Auto Club Speedway
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 186.567 mph.
2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 186.437.
3. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 186.128.
4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 186.047.
5. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 185.711.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 185.577.
7. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 185.185.
8. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 185.076.
9. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 184.848.
10. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 184.436.
11. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 184.360.
12. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 184.341.
13. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 184.743.
14. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 184.596.
15. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 184.115.
16. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 183.819.
17. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 183.683.
18. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 183.397.
19. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet, 182.848.
20. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 175.161.
21. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 183.870.
22. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 183.603.
23. (00) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 176.043.
24. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 133.735.
25. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 0.000.
26. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 0.000.
27. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000.
28. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000.
29. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 0.000.
30. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 0.000.
31. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 0.000.
32. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 0.000.
33. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 0.000.
34. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 0.000.
35. (51) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 0.000.
36. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0.000.
37. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 0.000.